The First Rule of Engagement, or “How Routine Can Work Wonders for Artists”

You didn’t think The Rules of Engagement was just a name I gave this blog to make it sound kickass, did you?

Anyone who knows me (which, admittedly, not many do yet by way of this blog, but perhaps, in time, that will change) knows that I love rules.  Seriously.  Someone actually accused me once of taking the proverbial “rule book” to bed with me at night.  It’s hardly something I can deny; I did already out myself on my “About” tab as being fairly left-brained, rational, and rigid, and to quote (or misquote) Popeye, “I am what I am”.  But my love of rules is not because I lack sufficient imagination or ability to think for myself, but rather, I find that when the structure and consistency that rules promote is in place, creativity and imagination are able to flourish.

I remember having a discussion along similar lines eight years ago.  I was fresh out of university and working my first real job, and already living in province number three of four.  I’m not sure how the subject came up, but there I was, extolling the virtues of maintaining a regular routine to a man some ten years my elder.  The reason I always went grocery shopping on the same day, for example, was because if it always happened at the same time, I didn’t have to invest time and mental energy in thinking about when I was going to do it.  In effect, regular scheduling made the task was invisible – something that just took care of itself.  Just part of the routine.

The same thing went for such errands as leaving for work, paying my Visa bill, vacuuming the floor, doing the dishes, taking my vitamins, calling my parents, and all the other “things” needing to be done on a daily-/weekly-/monthly-/more often/less often basis that littered my life.  When accounted for all together, it added up to a lot of time spent if I had to schedule them each and every time.  But having it so that the recurring things took care of themselves made it so that I could take care of the unexpected things – whether good, bad, or disastrous – with greater energy and focus. Or if nothing new was afoot, I could just flow through me day taking in whatever inspiration or ideas washed over me.

Following rules was no different: you don’t have to think about stooping and scooping after your dog or submitting your time sheet every second Friday.  You just do it, and as a result, it does itself.

As it turned out, my colleague agreed with me.  Then again, he was a hardcore scientist, so routine and regularity wasn’t exactly a hard sell.  But I think even artsy types can be convinced of the benefits of routine.  Indeed, at least one artsy type already has:

Julia Cameron, author of the artistic recovery self-help book The Artist’s Way.

I draw a comparison between my regular schedule and Julia Cameron’s “morning pages”, which she prescribes in the book.  Cameron writes of morning pages,

They might also, more ingloriously be called brain drain, since that is one of their main functions….  Pages are meant to be, simply, the act of moving the hand across the page and writing whatever comes to mind.  All that whiny, petty stuff that you write down in the morning pages stands between you and your creativity….  Worrying about the job, the laundry, the funny knock in the car, the weird look in your lover’s eye – this stuff eddies through our subconscious and muddies our days.  Get it on the page. (pp. 9-10).

According to Cameron, in order to reach our creativity, we need to get past all the other stuff that happens inside our minds when we aren’t being creative.  Hence, she recommends throwing off the water each day until only the gold at the bottom remains.  Just as I move “mindlessly” through the mundane aspects of my day so that I can keep my mind simultaneously wide open like a net ready to catch anything that strays off the beaten track.

I get loads of story ideas that way.  I get a lot while writing my morning pages too.

Except, I do “morning” pages at 9:30 at night.  And I don’t call them “morning pages”, but daily pages.

Because, while I love rules, there’s nothing that says all the rules I follow have to be someone else’s. Indeed, I often stick best to those that I create for myself.

Hence, The First Rule of Engagement:

Post to this blog once a week.

Right now, the day I’ve chosen as posting day is Saturday.  This, I think, is doable.  Not so ambitious as the “every other day” schedule on my old blog six years ago, yet often enough to keep the content fresh and the site, hopefully, interesting.

After all, a blog with as kickass a name as The Rules of Engagement should at least make an attempt to be of interest.

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2 thoughts on “The First Rule of Engagement, or “How Routine Can Work Wonders for Artists”

  1. “The reason I always went grocery shopping on the same day, for example, was because if it always happened at the same time, I didn’t have to invest time and mental energy in thinking about when I was going to do it. In effect, regular scheduling made the task was invisible – something that just took care of itself. Just part of the routine.”

    My ethos entirely. I live a very structured life, brought on mainly by years an anorexic brain unable to function outside its little rat runs, so routines were a safe way of life. They still are, to a degree, but I can think more clearly now and am able to bend the rules to suit others, and sudden mishaps. Flexibility has become more key. That being said, I will still try my damn hardest to do the same things every day at the same time, simply because, as you say, it’s easier. Much of my time spent cleaning the cop-shop full time, is full of auto-pilot routines and my mind running free on creative thoughts, which are then punched into my phone-notes.

    It doesn’t suit some. For us it’s a non-question.

    Like

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